Sarah Waters – Affinity

Posted on | May 31, 2010 | 13 Comments

In a world where twenty-seven year old women are called “spinsters” and they aren’t allowed to study further, despite being inclined towards academia, where they still need their mother’s permission to carry out certain activities, and where they’re bound by society’s rules and regulations, this story is about a woman desperately trying to find her place and her footing while her siblings are getting married, having babies and moving ahead.

It’s also a story about another woman, a spiritualist, who has been imprisoned due to her involvement in an affair which led to the unfortunate demise of one of her clients. She blames it on the spirits who she interacts with, but there isn’t any evidence in her favour.

Set in London in the 1870s, this book is about two women: Selina, the prisoner (and spiritualist) and Margaret, the Lady Visitor at the prison who is trying to overcome an “illness.”

Early on in the book, Margaret’s visit to Millibank Prison are more about meeting Selina (who she’s never met before), than the other prisoners. Selina, who communicates with various spirits from the prison cell as well, interacts with Margaret’s father who passed away two years previously. As they form a special spiritual bond – a result of loneliness and despondence – they start sharing the details of their past (and their present), which brings them closer together, leading Margaret to believe that Selina is her “affinity.”

One sympathises with Margaret, wonders whether Selina is really a spiritualist or not (well, I did – I don’t really have believe in spirits being able to interact with humans via various media), and dreads the prison – which essentially could be a character in itself. Dark and gloomy, with endless passages, odours, wards, and extremely strict (almost inhumane) matrons who patrol the wards and punish the prisoners for their crimes.

As I’ve come to expect with Sarah Waters’ novels, there’s a breathtaking plot twist, which just leaves the reader gripped to the book, long after they’ve turned the last page. The book is written in interleaving chapters of the present and the past: the present is Margaret’s voice, writing in her diary, and the past is Selina’s, presumably writing in her diary as well. Thus, the whole book is presented to us from the eyes of the two protagonists, and one does start seeing things from their points of view. It’s easy to relate to them, sympathise with their predicaments, and hope for a “happily ever after” that’s only ever seen in fairy tales.

While this book is no Fingersmith (I doubt Waters will be able to re-do that kind of magic), it is still immense in terms of character development and scene setting. It’s probably my second favourite book by Waters (although I still have Tipping The Velvet to go). I’ve read/heard many comments saying Waters is at her best while writing about the Victorian period, and as things stand, I’m bound to agree.

Have you read Affinity? Where do you think it stands amidst Sarah Waters’ other novels?


13 Responses to “Sarah Waters – Affinity”

  1. Carolyn
    May 31st, 2010 @ 10:37 pm

    I’ve read Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith but not Affinity yet, although I am looking forward to reading it at some point. I’m not as keen on reading her WW2 novels, but quite like the Victorian ones.

  2. Jackie (Farm Lane Books)
    June 1st, 2010 @ 8:03 am

    I haven’t read this one, but thought the plot was the weakest from all the BBC adaptations I’ve seen. I doubt she’ll ever match Fingersmith again.

  3. Karen
    June 1st, 2010 @ 8:08 am

    I actually love this one much more than Fingersmith and I would rate it as my second favourite Waters’s novel after The Night Watch. Something about the characters just clicked for me – I couldn’t put it down.

  4. bookssnob
    June 1st, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

    I want to read this now! I enjoyed Fingersmith but haven’t read further…her other books haven’t sounded particularly appealing to me, but I’ve had The Little Stranger recommended frequently.

  5. chasing bawa
    June 1st, 2010 @ 9:08 pm

    I really loved The Night Watch which I read last year after reading The Little Stranger (which I also loved). I read Affinity this year and with every book I am more and more impressed with Sarah Waters. I felt the book was much better than the TV adaptation purely because Waters prose is just so magical and her plot structure so clever.

  6. mee
    June 2nd, 2010 @ 11:26 am

    I’m going to read Tipping the Velvet this year! (I haven’t read any Sarah Waters) I’d love to read Fingersmith first, but the one I own is Tipping the Velvet.

  7. reviewsbylola
    June 5th, 2010 @ 11:43 pm

    This sounds like a good one! I want to read more Waters–ironically, the one book I have read by her at this point is Tipping the Velvet. I am sure you will enjoy it–both my cousin and I liked it a lot.

  8. anothercookiecrumbles
    June 8th, 2010 @ 9:01 pm

    @Carolyn : I agree with you on not being that keen on the WWII novels. Didn’t enjoy Night Watch much at all. Looking forward to reading Tipping The Velvet next, which is the only outstanding Waters I have.

    @Jackie : I agree. Fingersmith was a class apart. However, I think this book was quite book. Some of the writing was quite clever, but I just couldn’t get into the whole spiritualist thing. Not seen the BBC adaptations, but maybe give the book a shot? Might be more convincing?

    @Karen : Oh! I didn’t really enjoy Night Watch. Glad to hear you enjoyed this too though. I’m afraid I’m a statistic with Fingersmith being my favourite :)

    @booksnob : I read The Little Stranger about a month after Fingersmith, and stupidly, I was expecting another Fingersmith! I don’t think I gave the book a fair chance, so, I’d love to read what you think of it.

    @chasing bawa : Agree with you about her writing/plot structure being incredibly clever. Looks like you’re saving the best for last, so hope you enjoy Fingersmith :)

    @mee : I’m going to be reading Tipping The Velvet as well, so would be awesome to compare notes.

    @reviewsbylola : Cool – can’t wait to read Tipping The Velvet. Should happen in a couple of months or so…

  9. Bina
    June 11th, 2010 @ 11:21 am

    Great review! I´ve only read Nightwach and Fingersmith so far, but I loved both. And Waters does come up with the best twists! :)

  10. anothercookiecrumbles
    June 11th, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

    @Bina : If you loved both, Fingersmith and Night Watch, you’ll probably love this as well! You’re right – her plot twists are awesome. :)

  11. KT
    June 14th, 2010 @ 3:34 pm

    I read Affinity right after reading Fingersmith, so I was a little bit disappointed. Thinking back on it, though, Affinity was very well-written and the plot (especially the twist) was inspired. Maybe I was just turned off by how gloomy the setting was!

  12. Affinity – Sarah Waters | A Book Blog. Period.
    August 24th, 2010 @ 4:02 am

    […] Opinions: Once, oh marvellous once / book i done read / another cookie crumbles This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← TSS – In […]

  13. ian darling
    July 4th, 2011 @ 11:06 am

    Just finished Affinity last night. I hugely admire and am haunted by it. The novel is definately a slow burner and you need to read it quite closely to get the most from it.The ending is shatteringly disturbing.Also have read her Little Stranger and Night Watch and enjoyed both v. much but i think Affinity the strongest in terms of plot and atmosphere.

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